gender equality in law, gender quotas

The Case for Gender Quotas in Law Firms

We regularly engage with professional services firms, advising and collaborating with them at Board level on solutions to the dearth of women in senior leadership roles. This is a struggle for most large companies, and remains a seemingly intractable issues for law firms in particular. The billable hours system is becoming antiquated for women, men and increasingly clients who are demanding fixed fee contracts.

One question often raised is on the utility of quotas or targets for women on Boards. While historic appetite for quotas has been marginal, it is gaining ground in both the press and with individual Partners themselves. Most recently The Epilogue reported on the issue in a column; Status Quota. The article made salient points as to why law firms would be wise to consider targets even if they are not directly required to go to a quota themselves:

“With a quota-system, companies would be forced to consider how women can really be helped to progress, which should mean more ‘family-friendly’ policies and work-hour flexibility.”

This would benefit men as well as women. Many men are no happier than women with the prevailing attitudes to office life. Firms would also have to think about reward and motivation, engaging with differing male and female psychologies. Again, this wouldn’t just favour women: there are many men who don’t fit the alpha-male stereotype, and for whom an approach that rewards different talents would be widely welcomed.

The outcome might well be companies with more balanced leadership teams, boasting a wider variety of skills. Perhaps such a team might have successfully challenged the reckless leadership decision-making that helped get us all into the current financial crisis? At present, it is only large corporates that are even part of the quota debate. But if they were to adopt a quota system, law firms would follow – because these are their clients. Female corporate leaders are less likely to want to work with all-male partnerships. Yes, this might all happen naturally without any need for forced quotas. Just depends on whether you’re willing to wait another 100 years or so.